When it comes to advocating for his clients during a budget stalemate, Rocco Pugliese says he’s seen it all before.
“There’s going to be an end in sight,” the Harrisburg lobbyist said. “Just not soon. Historically, during budget impasses, the impasse has to reach a really bad level before it gets better, and unfortunately, I’m not sure it has reached that level yet.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed a $30.2 billion budget proposal sent to him last week by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. That move, followed by a veto of a Republican-led liquor privatization plan, ushered in an impasse that could take weeks, maybe even months to resolve.
Adding to the uncertainty, Gov. Wolf announced yet another veto Thursday—this time of a GOP-authored pension reform bill. Although the veto was widely expected by most political observers in and around the capitol, the veto announcements and the responses they elicited from legislative leaders have made it clear there is a long way to go before a budget gets done.
“It’s not just the vetoes that make the negotiations tough this time around,” Pugliese said. “It’s the messaging that has gone with them. And then the counter-messaging. And then the counter messaging to those messages.”
Fortunately, it is highly unlikely this standoff will lead to a shutdown of state government services. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that Commonwealth employees must be paid regardless of whether government leaders pass a budget on time. That may be good news for state agencies and the constituents they serve, but if the stalemate drags on for too long, it could become a major problem for school districts and non-profits who rely on state aid.
Pugliese is doubtful about government leaders reaching an agreement anytime soon.
“It’s possible this could go past Labor Day and into the fall,” Pugliese said. “It’s going to take some time, but we can’t worry about things we cannot control.”
If there’s a glimmer of hope anywhere, it’s for those who rely on government affairs advocates like Pugliese and his team at Pugliese Associates. They have experience with these sorts of stalemates, and continue to advocate on behalf of their clients despite the tension in the Capitol building.
“Right now it’s all about message reinforcement,” Pugliese said. “We’re still in discussions with everyone, so when things finally become fluid, I am hopeful that our issues will receive proper consideration.”
No one enjoys when budget stalemates happen, Pugliese said, but “for those of us who are involved with Pennsylvania government—directly or indirectly—this is not our first rodeo. We’ve been through this sort of thing before.”